Call it the Comcast Friends and Advisors plan.
The cable television giant may not have deep roots in Hollywood, but it has friends who do. For more than two months, two former high-ranking Fox entertainment executives -- Peter Chernin and Peter Liguori -- have been counseling Comcast Corp. as it negotiates with General Electric Co. to take control of NBC Universal, executives who asked not to be identified said Monday.
Chernin, who until July was No. 2 to Rupert Murdoch at News Corp., has been informally advising his friends -- and neighbors -- at Comcast as they prepare a possible takeover of the television company and movie studio. The deal under negotiation would give Comcast 51% of NBC Universal, while GE would own the remaining 49%.
Not only does Chernin have expertise managing entertainment companies, he also knows the top two Comcast executives, in part because they have neighboring vacation homes: Chernin owns a house near Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts' home on Martha's Vineyard. And his ski lodge in the exclusive Yellowstone Club in Montana is next door to one owned by Steve Burke, Comcast's chief operating officer.
But Chernin offers Comcast more than just location, location.
During two decades at News Corp., Chernin ran the company's Fox broadcast network, TV stations and movie studio -- areas of NBC Universal that sorely need fixing. He also has experience overseeing cable channels, which have become NBC Universal's most profitable operations.
Chernin's close familiarity with media companies should help Comcast calculate realistic values for NBC's various assets. The former News Corp. executive, who now runs his own movie and TV production studio based at Fox, is serving as "more than a friend but less than a consultant," said an executive familiar with the arrangement who asked not to be identified because the work is confidential.
People close to Chernin said he has no interest in running the media company should Comcast acquire a controlling interest in NBC Universal.
That's because the chief executive job, even at a super-sized NBC Universal, would be too similar to the one he just left at News Corp. "Peter wouldn't do it," said one person familiar with his thinking. The New York Times blog Media Decoder first reported Chernin's role helping Comcast.
Chernin's involvement, which had been secret until this week, caught several of his associates by surprise.
"Although it is vintage Chernin," said an executive who knows him but is not involved in the Comcast deal, "it allows him to stir things up a little. And it could be a way for him to get back in the sandbox and help Comcast out."
Liguori, meanwhile, is serving Comcast in a different capacity. Since midsummer, he has been a consultant helping to evaluate NBC's assets, according to people familiar with the arrangement.
The former chairman of Fox Entertainment was squeezed out of a job in March when Murdoch replaced him with Peter Rice, who had run Fox's specialty movie studio, Fox Searchlight.
Liguori also is deeply familiar with the inner workings of a broadcast company, having spent four years at the No. 1 network.
The former HBO and Procter & Gamble Co. marketing executive gained prominence at Fox for helping build its FX cable channel into a powerhouse with such edgy shows as "The Shield."
And Liguori is a big proponent of TV sports, a specialty of Comcast. Comcast's regional sports networks bring in about a third of the company's entertainment revenue.
If Comcast's bid succeeds, Liguori is expected to stay on as part of Comcast's management team, one insider said.